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May 25, 1998

It's time to watch out for bugs, tips, and secrets for Windows 98

Regardless of the outcome of the Microsoft antitrust case, one thing is certain: Some product called "Windows 98" will eventually be available to the public. Because that is the case, we should start considering now what problems, if any, will come with an upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows 98.

I can't predict every glitch that will occur when people with a wide variety of systems start using Windows 98 in real life. Fortunately, I have a research staff of 350,000 -- the approximate circulation of InfoWorld. I invite you to start sending in any secrets you learn when using Windows 98. The first person to submit a secret that I use in this column will receive a free copy of Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books), when Microsoft's new OS becomes available.

What we know from the past is that some of the worst side effects of upgrading to new Windows versions were not mere bugs but deliberate decisions made by Microsoft. Because these "gotchas" occurred more than three years ago, most people don't remember them, so it's worth reviewing them now.

  • System conflicts. When companies upgraded from Windows 3.0 to late beta versions of Windows 3.1 in 1992, those using a DOS version other than Microsoft's MS-DOS saw the message "Non-fatal error detected: error #2726," and Windows halted. The message instructed users to call Microsoft's beta support program. When people called, they were told Microsoft would not provide technical support for Windows if a non-Microsoft version of DOS was used.

    This error message caused many companies and PC manufacturers to stop buying DR-DOS, a competing operating system that was available from Digital Research, at the time a major software company. If Windows wouldn't run with DR-DOS, that was enough to persuade most buyers not to use it.

    DR-DOS did nothing to cause the error. Microsoft had simply written "some MS-DOS detection code," as one Microsoft executive described it at the time. I wrote about this in three columns in November 1993, thanks to research by Andrew Schulman, author of Undocumented Windows (Addison-Wesley).

  • The Internet shuffle. The upgrade from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 in August 1995 caused another serious headache. Prior to Windows 95, PC users ran a variety of software to access Internet services. Key to these services was a file called WINSOCK.DLL. This file makes it possible to connect to remote computers using IP.

    Installing Microsoft's TCP/IP support or Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0, however, replaced competing versions of WINSOCK .DLL with a version that worked only with the new Microsoft Network. This disabled competing services, such as CompuServe's NetLauncher, Spry's Mosaic, and others.

    Many users of these products tried to reinstall their applications to make them work again. But the next time that Win95 restarted, it detected the competing WINSOCK.DLL and replaced it again with its own proprietary version. I wrote about this in 1995, and Internet services soon found ways around it, but it created serious problems for Microsoft's competitors when the Net was young.

    If the Justice Department can keep Microsoft from using Windows 98 to play dirty tricks such as these on competitors, it will have earned its keep. When you first install Windows 98, send me e-mail with the subject "upgrade secrets" and let me know what you find.

    Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.

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